Cardio & Bodybuilding: Do Bodybuilders Need Cardio Training?

Can you cut up like the pros by lifting weights alone? Time to find out…

arnold schwarzenegger and jeff seid

Cardio and bodybuilding aren’t always two words that go together well. It’s purely a love-hate relationship, or maybe even tolerate-hate sort of thing.

We’re not quite sure, but what we do know is that most bros prefer to lift, not burst a lung running or get a mouthful of water doing laps in the pool. There’s a particular saying that runs rife in iron houses all over our great continent…

Anything over 5 reps is cardio!

Which we all know ain’t true, but hell, it sums up most of our attitudes towards cardio anyway. Why would we want to spend valuable bulking time sat on a lame-ass stationary bicycle? Even worse, share a stepper with the middle-aged soccer moms.

We’re on a quest to claim the iron throne. Except instead of incest, CGI dragons and sh*tty spells like on the TV show, we’re all about bending bars with ridiculously heavy weights.

This ain’t no wimpish fairy tale! Welcome to the alpha-life, bro!

We’ll claim the crown of henchest freak in the kingdom of savages by lifting heavy damn it. Pumping our muscles to explosion point and smashing our your 1RM for 12 reps easy!

The Big But: Cardio & Cutting for Bodybuilding

jeff seid using cardio for bodybuilding lean muscle

But, (there’s always one) what happens when we want to cut? Unless you’re literally only concerned with adding mass, it’s inevitable you’ll hit this precision-sculpting stage.

There will come a time when we want to peel back the fat clouding our physique to unveil those gains. We all know that a chubby bigger bodybuilder simply pales in comparison to a smaller yet leaner specimen cut like a Greek statue from granite.

If it were only about who had the largest frame, powerlifters and strongmen would rule our world, not shredded ripped up freaks of nature. Just picture that for a moment bro…

Instead of working hard for single digit body fat we might as well be sat on the couch eating KFC. Someone pass us the bucket and not the one with the chicken in dumb ass!

Let’s all just agree that we’re all chasing leanness. Only then can we move forward.

Now, one proven way to torch through fat like a flamethrower in a firework factory is cardio training.

So if you’re a dedicated physique developer and you don’t f*ck with cardio, you’re selling yourself short. Your body is but a blunt weapon in comparison to what it could be.

“Hey nice abs you’ve got hidden under there”, said no-one ever. Are we right?

Shedding the fat is a lot like sharpening a deadly blade.

All of a sudden those powerful sacks of muscle tissue go from a fluffy non-threatening dullness to being hard and defined like a razor edge. After all, it’s called cutting for a reason, bro.

Cardio vs. Weights for Fat Loss

bodybuilder performing cardio vs a bodybuilder lifting weights

There’s a lot of research suggesting that resistance training with weights blitzes body fat.

In fact, heavy resistance training is awesome at doing so. This is because of the high amounts of energy needed to do it and the EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption) effect.

However, a study conducted in 1998 showed that when coupled with cardio, the potential for fat loss is greater than training with weights alone.

But before you lace up those Asics and set the treadmill on stroll mode, there’s a downside you need to know about.

Although fat loss was optimized, the study also found that this combined style of training severed strength gains pretty much in half. Ouch!

Also, to make matters worse, other tests have suggested this theory to be true too.

When we first saw those results we broke out in a cold sweat. Any talk of lost gains is way scarier than anything else we could imagine.

Even more terrifying than someone knocking on the window whilst you’re home alone watching a horror flick. Actually, maybe something worse, like waking up one day with an urge to do a CrossFit WOD.

“See bro, I told you cardio sucked!” ~ Every bodybuilder right now…

meme demonstrating cardio damages weight lifting gains

Another issue found with cardio training is that it can actually cancel out weightlifting gains.

A 2003 study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology stated that;

“…results suggest that even the low-frequency concurrent strength and endurance training leads to interference in explosive strength development mediated in part by the limitations of rapid voluntary neural activation of the trained muscles.”

Simply put, the physiological adaptations related to cardio training are pretty much the polar opposite of resistance exercise.

And if all that hasn’t got you setting alight to your Asics and unfriending anyone who likes ‘running’ on Facebook, this might…

By throwing cardio into the mix you’re essentially ramping up your workout volume. Therefore, it’s understandably going to be much harder to recover between sessions.

We all know that poor recovery leads to a heavy cycle of sins that’ll wreck your progress.

Eventually, all that overreaching turns to overtraining. Then, once that miserable beast kicks you in the teeth, you can wave goodbye to gains and say hello to poor performance and low AF testosterone.

Don’t set fire to the treadmill just yet!

Before we all decide to down a bunch of highly explosive pre workout and wage war against the treadmill, hear us out!

It is possible to fit the essential cardio necessary for a cut into your schedule without becoming a ghost overnight. So you can chill out panicking about how you’ve got to walk to the toilet every day to take a dump.

Researchers from Tampa University have presented evidence suggesting that it’s all down to specific cardio types.

Funnily enough, running or jogging, the one bodybuilders naturally gravitate to, is at the bottom of the pile. So with that being said, what the are you supposed to do now?

Methods for Muscle: Best Bodybuilding Cardio

bodybuilder sprinting as part of cardio training

The best types of cardiovascular training for gains-heads are:

  • Cycling – Low Impact
  • Rowing – Low Impact
  • Sprinting (on foot) – High Impact
  • Swimming – Low Impact

Cycling is much more explosive than steady running and employs a larger ROM. Not only that, but the action of peddling actively engages the hip flexors better, which may help in squat performance.

Rowing is also awesome because as well as providing a cardio-based platform it adds mass supporting resistance. The pulling motion targets the back and core, whilst the pushing drive hammers the legs.

Trust us bro, 30:30 on:off row splits straight up separate the alphas from the betas!

Next up we’ve got sprinting. Now, when we say sprinting, we literally mean balls to the wall pedal to the metal action! If you’re doing it right you should feel like your lungs are trying to climb out of your chest at the end.

Rocky and Apollo Creed sprinting on a beach
Rocky and Creed know what it’s about.

Sprinting involves many more joints than jogging alone and has been proven to destroy body fat. But that’s not all, the best part is that it goes a long way in maintaining, if not improving, hard earned muscle in the legs and core.

Swimming is also a credible option for bodybuilding. And whilst it might not be the norm, there’s certainly prizes to be won for those willing to take the plunge.

Staying afloat and torpedoing from one end of the pool to the other is a full today body workout. The resistance of the water works just like that of the rower and offers an opportunity to still maintain and/or build muscle.

Bro tip: Lifting heavy and signing your life away to the iron is hard on the body. Shoot for the low impact options if you’re worried about wrecking your joints.

Slow & Steady State Won’t Win the Race

If you haven’t witnessed an old silver-back walking for hours on a treadmill you simply do not lift, period. This sight is a staple part of any iron barracks housing serious bodybuilders and has been for decades.

Why? Because if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it apparently.

That’s what these dudes will tell you if you plucked up the courage to disturb their mid-stroll snack. Tread with caution though because old timers get moody around young alpha bucks.

Now there’s a couple of real reasons for why dudes do this. One of them is that running is hard for real-life freaks of nature with huge physiques. It sucks, burns the lungs, and just ain’t comfortable or fun.

Then, you’ve got the whole myth of the ‘fat burning zone’. Ever since the 90s, this misconception has been bouncing around off gym walls like a chimpanzee jacked on caffeine.

People like to hang around here for an hour or two plodding away at moderate intensity. Which is totally okay, if you’re down with wiping away your hard work under the bar….

Intensity vs. Time

bodybuilder using row machine as necessary high intensity cardio

 

Tampa University’s team of experts are suggesting that cardio duration is what counts for muscle loss. And the longer we carry it out, the more damage to our hard earned mass occurs.

According to the team, they saw a minimal loss of muscle and strength when endurance training was kept below a 20-minute threshold per day. 

Sounds totally doable right? If anything, it totally beats losing hours of our life chained to a revolving band of rubber every week.

One of the best methods to make the most of this short window is by sprinting. Whether that be on foot, the bike, in the pool, or on the rowing machine.

If jogging is the lowly peasant, sprinting is the baller king surrounded by hot AF b*tches and mountains of gold (gains). We know which one we’d rather be and so do you, bro!

Whereas slow steady state cardio has been shown to take away from muscle gains, sprinting might actually amplify them. The act of sprinting alone can build explosive muscle, so it’s a no-brainier for us bodybuilders.

The Body Type Test

3 bodybuilding bodytypes from genetics
Which one are you, bro?

Ever heard that genetics are pretty important in bodybuilding? Damn right you have, that’s why you donate $2 a week to skinny noobs so they can buy a life-saving bucket of Ultra-Mass 40,000 (not a real product).

Now, before somebody gets upset and calls the “all you need is hard work” police, everybody sit down and shut up!

The physiological advantages/disadvantages you naturally possess that’re linked to your DNA can be a key indicator of what cardio training is right for you.

To make this sh*t easy to understand we’ll break it down in relation to the three main body types. That’s ectomorphs, mesomorphs, and endomorphs.

Ectomorphs

These guys are your natural hard gainers. No matter how much they lift or eat, they just can’t pile it on like they’d prefer.

You’re an ecto if you’re naturally skinny, narrow-shouldered, often lanky, and have thin wrists and/or ankles. The metabolism you possess is like a hellish furnace for food and you’ve never once remembered being tubby.

Therefore, as a hard gaining possessor of naturally low body fat, approach cardio with caution. Because of your predisposition to become leaner over bulkier, less can sometimes be more in this field.

Once or twice a week is enough to shave off the excess. Any more than this and you’ll probably start chopping into the mass that you struggled to build in the first place.

You worked hard for those slabs bro, don’t sacrifice them if you don’t have to. Stick to 1-2 sessions per week, to peel back the layers covering your muscle without wiping them out completely.

image showing three famous bodybuilders with different body types
Three Different Body Types

Mesomorph

If there was ever a body type to be smug about it’s the mesomorph. Naturally athletic? Check. ‘V’ tapered? Check. Easy gainer without the extra fat deposits? Yeah, sounds about right.

Mesomorphs are those bros born to be athletes. They have a steady metabolism, so don’t put on fat too easily. However, mesos still respond well to resistance training, especially as beginners.

Simply put they have the best of both worlds.

Yet, mesos can’t blitz calories quite like the ectos, so may need extra cardio to cut. If their diet is on point and metabolism is healthy, 1-2 times per week will do the trick.

Endomorph

Finally, we have the endomorphs. Stocky, broad, thick wrists, and maybe a little fluffy on the physique side. These dudes were born to be strong, and don’t the rest of us know about it.

You’ll find the endo warming up with your 1RM and packing on the pounds of muscle meat quicker than we’d fill our pants if we saw Margot Robbie bent over naked.

To say this dude is an easy gainer is a massive understatement. You could literally watch him bag inches on his biceps overnight.

But of course, there’s always a downside to being able to stack timber like a lumberjack with eight arms. All that easy AF muscle comes with the price of above average body fat.

So understandably, a natural endomorph has to work double time if he’s to cut up properly.

The magic number seems to be 3x per week for maintenance.

To shred, endos should shoot for 5-6 sessions, or drop down to 2-3 for a ride to gains city.

Summary: The Final Cut

bodybuilders on stage showing minimal bodyfat due to necessary cardio training for cutting

So to answer the question, “Do Bodybuilders Need Cardio Training?”

The simple answer is yes. They certainly do, and here’s why.

Until some magic gamma ray device comes along to blast away fat cells it’s the only way to get fully cut. Of course, we could just rely on resistance training to torch calories, but it isn’t enough.

As bodybuilders we should be doing everything we can to make our physiques as spectacular as humanly possible. Therefore, by not doing cardio, we’re carrying out a huge injustice on our potential. 

Diet should always come first, and premium products designed to help fat loss can definitely help. But when all of that is in check, cardio is the tool we can use to chisel away those final pieces of stone and reveal endless hours of hard work.

It’s just all about doing the right type of cardio training that’s specific to your needs. So be smart, use it, and look better than you ever could without.

 

If you’re feeling inspired to take your training to the next level, check out:

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